Iraqi judge says Saddam denied being abused while in captivity

Iraqi officials repeatedly asked Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants if they had ever been beaten and they answered 'no' every time, according to an investigative judge. Contradicting the ousted leader's claim that he was abused by American guards, Judge Raid Juhi on Thursday told The Associated Press that a medical team would have investigated if Saddam or any of his seven co-defendants had complained of beatings or torture.

The comments came as Saddam's often-theatrical trial began a monthlong recess following two days of testimony about alleged torture and the deaths of more than 140 Iraqis after a 1982 attempt to kill Saddam in Dujail. The defendants could face death by hanging if convicted.

Like most sessions of the trial so far, Thursday's had its share of drama. The defense team threatened to walk out and a prosecutor tried to resign, saying he had been insulted by defendant Barazan Ibrahim, the head of the Iraqi intelligence services in 1982.

A day earlier, Saddam told the court he had been beaten "everywhere" on his body, insisting "the marks are still there." He did not display any marks, but said it took some wounds eight months to heal. On Thursday, Saddam said American denials that he was beaten could not be believed, noting that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq despite President Bush's prewar claims that Saddam was harboring such weapons.

"The White House lied when it said Iraq had chemical weapons," Saddam said. "I reported all the wounds I got to three medical committees. ... We are not lying; the White House is lying." But Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam, said that neither the defendants nor their lawyers had ever complained about beatings. Officials also never saw signs of beatings, he said.

The court heard from six witnesses over the two days, including one Thursday who testified from behind the cover of a curtain, sounding as though he struggled to hold back tears while describing the scene at a desert camp where some of the Dujail families were held. "It was a situation beyond description," he said. "Women were crying. Children were crying." Witnesses have the option of not having their identities revealed as a security measure to protect them against reprisals by Saddam loyalists.

Another witness said six of his brothers had been executed and a seventh was killed in Dujail. A third said that his father, uncles and grandmother were taken away by security officials and tortured, and that all but his grandmother were never seen again.

Saddam and his defense lawyers have sought repeatedly to discredit the witnesses, arguing they have been coached and saying many were too young when the alleged atrocities happened. The witness whose father and uncles were never seen again, for example, was 8 in 1982, and a defense attorney got him to admit he hadn't been arrested and hadn't seen any dead bodies.

The defense contends witnesses have failed to directly link their clients to the charges. Several witness, who also are considered plaintiffs in the trial, have said they were lodging complaints against Saddam because as the president he was responsible for the behavior of security services.

In one of the heated exchanges that have become common at the trial, Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother, accused prosecutors of siding against the defendants to absolve themselves of their own background in Saddam's Baath Party. At one point, Ibrahim yelled, "Long live Baath!" One of the prosecutors, meanwhile, asked the judge if he could resign, complaining that Ibrahim had insulted the prosecution during previous sessions. The judge denied the request.

The judge at one point told Ibrahim to speed up an answer, a request that prompted an angry argument, leading the defense to accuse a guard of making threatening gestures toward Ibrahim. Defense attorneys then said they would walk out if the guard did not leave, and the judge had the guard removed. After the witnesses finished testifying, the judge adjourned the trial until Jan. 24, reports the AP. I.L.

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